Remembering Trish Kerby
Champion of the Pryor Wild Horse Herd
by Ginger Kathrens
June 26, 2012
I remember the first time I met Trish Kerby. It was June of 1994 and I was on my very first filming trip to the top of the Pryor Mountains. It was a solo adventure for me and I had not seen another human being for a week, which was wonderful. However, when I noticed a vehicle parked near the top of Tillett Ridge Road and two people standing on the distant hilltop, I drove over to say hi, realizing only then that I was lonely.
The moment is crystal clear in my mind. I barely stepped out of my SUV when one of two middle-aged women said, “How about a glass of homemade wine?” Her voice was confident and matter of fact. “I’d love one,” I answered. This was the beginning of my friendship with Trish Kerby.
Friends Ginger & Trish in the Red Desert
Trish had been coming up to see the wild horses since the late 1980s and she knew each and every one of them. Our conversation that beautiful evening focused on a BLM plan to round up the band stallions and offer them for adoption in September. This would allow the younger stallions to participate in the breeding and increase the genetic variation in the herd. Even though I knew almost nothing about wild horses, I did come from the world of natural history filmmaking and understood natural selection and survival of the fittest. Only the strongest and smartest procreated, thus ensuring the strength and continued survival of the species. Taking stallions away that had proven themselves in battle, successfully won mares and produced strong offspring was the dumbest idea I’d ever heard and I told Trish that.
“What about that sorrel stallion over there?” she pointed to a bright sorrel stallion with a blaze, four white stockings and even a spot of white under his tummy. “His name is Flash.” The beefy stallion did look a bit like a quarterhorse, unlike Raven who was so classically Spanish in appearance. “If he’s a successful band stallion, he should never be removed,” I responded.
Flash had one of the biggest bands on the Pryors in 1994, second only to Shaman. “They want to remove him and Shaman and Black Beauty,” she continued. “Well, what can we do to stop this?” I asked. “We start a letter writing campaign,” Trish answered and she continued to lay out her plan to save the band stallions. I don’t think BLM anticipated a protest. The last one was over 30 years ago, in the late 1960s when BLM planned to eradicate the Pryor herd entirely but was successfully opposed by the Tillett family who had homesteaded here in the late 1800s; Reverend Floyd Schwieger, a Lutheran Minister; TV journalist, Hope Ryden; and many others who lived in the small town of Lovell, Wyoming. The result of their efforts was the creation of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in 1968 by Secretary of Interior, Stewart Udall.
It turned out that Flash was Trish’s favorite stallion and my response that evening helped forge a friendship that continued for nearly two decades. I helped as much as I could to save these battle-tested stallions as did Karen Sussman with the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros. The BLM captured the targeted band stallions and even freeze-branded them before they bent to public pressure. They released the stallions back into the wild, thanks in large part to Trish’s grassroot efforts.
I knew very little about wild horses in 1994 and I was smart enough to know it. I turned to Trish for help. She had more knowledge of wild horses in her little finger than I had in my whole body and I was lucky when she agreed to serve as my location scout for a series of films: Marty Stouffer’s Year of the Mustang
; National Geographic’s Horses
; the BBC’s Spirit of the Mustang
; and beginning in 1999, Cloud: Wild Stallion of the Rockies
followed byCloud’s Legacy: The Wild Stallion Returns
Trish and camera assistants during the 2002 fire in Pryors
(Photo by Ginger Kathrens)
Trish grew up on a ranch near Broadus, Montana just north of the Wyoming border. Her father trained mustangs for the military at a time when horses were still important in warfare. She rode from the time she was a little girl but by the time we met her riding days were nearly over because Trish suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Despite living in constant pain she kept up an active life in the outdoors, often with her dear friend, Tony Miller, who also worked to help us create the Cloud programs.
Ginger, Tony Miller, & Trish scope Sykes Ridge in the Pryors
When I first met Trish, she lived in Fromberg, Montana, less than 75 miles from her beloved wild horses. As my location scout, she would visit the mountain before I was scheduled to arrive for filming. She gave me a detailed rundown on what was going on, where I might find Raven, and later Cloud, and whether there was anything remarkable going on. Trish was responsible for my success in filming many of the behavioral sequences in the Cloud programs.
I can see Trish now, parked in her old truck at sunset at her favorite horse watching place—what she called the “hot spot.” Before the hideous, new fence was built, this was an open meadow where band after band of wild horses would trail in from their lush grazing in the Custer National Forest to drink at the spring-fed water hole. They would walk within yards of her truck and she could take pictures of each family as they passed by.
Trish with Reeve Woolpert in the Pryors
(Photo by Carole Iverson)
In collaboration with our other indefatigable crewmembers, we created an enduring film legacy, the only tale of a wild animal from birth in our hemisphere. Trish’s photography graces the pages of my Cloud books, including the cover of Cloud’s Legacy: The Wild Stallion Returns.
Trish surveys damage from 2002 fire in the Pryors
(Photo by Tony Wengert)
On the first day of the 2009 Pryor roundup, Trish stood in the cattleguard entrance to the BLM Britton Springs Corrals with about 30 of us. She reached in a trash can and pulled out a large cardboard box. With the help of her California friends, Reeve Woolpert and Carole Iverson, they created a Stop This Roundup!
sign. Trish chanted and waved the sign and we all joined in. Unfortunately our protest did not meet with the success we had in 1994 and the roundup began. All the horses were removed from their home in the Custer National Forest, including one of Trish’s favorites, Conquistador.
Trish and other advocates protest the 2009 Pryor Roundup
(Photo by Carole Iverson)
When I was filming the sequence of five year-old Cloud trying to steal Plenty Coups’ mares in 2000, Cloud had to knock off Conquistador in order to be first in line to take Plenty Coups’ band. As I filmed the action, Trish stood on the hill watching as the storm clouds built up and the thunder rolled. Afterwards, she scolded me about running around in the lightning. She didn’t stay angry for long because she knew how important it was to chronicle one of the most important events in the life of the dynamic, young stallion.
Conquistador died suddenly last month. Less than a month later, so did Trish. Tony Wengert, our mutual friend, called to give me the sad news. I told Tony I didn’t have the heart to tell her about Conquistador, and Tony said he told her and that Trish seemed to take the news in stride.
My friend of over 40 years, Ann Evans, was with me when Tony called. As she listened to my end of the conversation, I heard her say, “Conquistador and Trish are together now.” I hope this is true. I hope that the feisty, dedicated horsewoman and the gallant stallion are together and young again, free from pain. I hope Flash is with her too, and Raven and Shaman and Sitka, and all her special Pryor Wild Horse friends who have passed away.
Flash, Trish's favorite stallion
Happy Trails, Trish. Your legacy lives on with your human children. But your legacy also runs free on the Pryor Mountains. They are your beautiful children of the wild whom you loved with all your heart, and worked so hard to protect. Trust we will do all we can to keep them safe.
(Donations in memory of Trish and her beloved Pryor Mountain Herd can be made at www.thecloudfoundation.org